From director George Tillman Jr., the indie drama The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete tells the story of 13-year-old Mister (Skylan Brooks). When his hard-living mother (Jennifer Hudson) is apprehended by the police, Mister and his 9-year-old friend Pete (Ethan Dizon) are left alone to forage for food and dodge Child Protective Services while trying to stay alive in the Brooklyn projects.
During this recent exclusive phone interview with Collider, actress/singer Jordin Sparks (who plays Mister’s friend, Alice) talked about how she auditioned for this role, what made her want to be a part of telling this story, how she viewed her character, how Alice’s fate in the original script was different from what it is in the film now, and her own support system. She also talked about the key to maintaining success in this business, working on Left Behind, a film with Nicolas Cage about the rapture, how memorable her time was on Broadway, doing In the Heights, shooting an upcoming episode of CSI, and keeping a balance between her acting and singing careers. Check out what she had to say after the jump.
JORDIN SPARKS: I did audition for it. It came through my agent. We got the script and I read it, and I was balling on the plane. The flight attendant was looking at me like I was crazy, but I was so touched by the fight that the boys had. They go through so much. I was sitting there thinking, “If I had to go through this, right now, could I handle this?” To know that it’s 13- and 11-year-old kids that are going through it, really pulls at your heartstrings.
I just really loved the relatability factor. Everybody can relate to feeling hopeless, at some point in their life, and everybody can relate to fighting for something that’s worth fighting for, and everybody can relate to a person in their life that makes them go, “I don’t know why you’re here right now,” but then, at the end of the day, realizing you’d do anything for them. I just love that there’s that human element that everybody can relate to, in this story of perseverance and never giving up, and I was really, really drawn to that.
So, I did audition for it. Amazingly, when I went in for my audition, Skylan [Brooks] and Ethan [Dizon] were in the waiting room, so we were all talking and having a good time. They had me audition, and then they said, “We’re gonna have you come in with a couple other people to do chemistry testing.” So, they put me, Skylan and Ethan in a room, and we did the scene. And then, they took a picture of us together, and it was there. It was magic. There was Mister, Pete and Alice, and the rest is history.
Why do you think the chemistry was so easy with both Skylan and Ethan?
SPARKS: I have a younger brother, so I’m super protective, anyway. And that definitely came out while I was filming this and trying to get into this character. Now, I’m super obsessed with them. I got really attached to them while we were filming because all of my scenes were with them. I’m like, “Don’t talk to anybody without your manager, or your parents.” They’re seasoned vets, so I’m sure they already know, but it was incredible watching them work, for sure.
Was it important to you that, no matter how dark this subject matter got at times, there always remained a glimmer of hope?
SPARKS: Yes! Another reason I was drawn to Alice is that she is a little sliver of hope in Mister and Pete’s world. She is a little ray of sunshine where there are so many dark clouds. I really liked being that character, and I could relate to it. For me, I’m that way with my friends. I’ll drop anything, no matter what I’m going through, if they need something, and I hope they would do the same for me. Alice is going through some stuff, herself, but she still wants to help Mister in any way that she can.
How did you view Alice and the situation she was in, in her own life? Do you think she was just desperate to get out of the life she was stuck in, or do you think she was being manipulative, at all?
SPARKS: There’s a lot that’s left unsaid, and there was a lot in the original script that didn’t make it, in the end, but the way I viewed Alice was that it was just a means to get out. I don’t think she was in love with the man she was with. I don’t think she really wanted to be in the relationship. I feel like it was a means to get out of the projects and to not have to be there anymore. She saw a chance and she took it. Mister comes into it because they used to hang out when she did go to school and they lived in the same building. I feel like Mister is the only person in her world who doesn’t judge her, and she really needed that in her world. She just wants to talk to Mister, and Mister needs that little ray of sunshine. And obviously, he has a crush on her.
SPARKS: In the original script and cut, Alice died. You can see why that didn’t make it. It would have been way too much. When I read the original script, I was just like, “Oh, my gosh, can one more thing happen to these kids? Is anything ever going to get better?” So, I can see why they edited it the way that they did, but it leaves it a little open-ended. You never know if she moved in with that guy, or if she moved out on her own. It leaves it open to interpretation. I’m just glad that she doesn’t die now. That would have been too much for the boys.
What was it like to work on this, in the summer in New York, in an actual housing project? Did all of those things help add to the vibe of the film and your performance?
SPARKS: Yes! It was hot! When you’re telling a story so intimately, about a certain place and about a certain lifestyle, you really want to put in elements that really help make you feel like you’re there. So, to actually be able to film it in Brooklyn, and we shot some stuff in Washington Heights as well, was awesome. You can’t just stop everybody’s life, so there’s people everywhere. It was the perfect stage for where Mister and Pete and the whole story needed to be. It was a lot of fun being there, and it really did put you into the character. Alice is an Afro-Latina from the Bronx, and I’m an Arizona girl from the suburbs. Anything that I could have to help me definitely helped.
One of the big themes of this film is that we all really need other people in our lives, in order to survive. Who are the go-to people for you, that you consider your support system?
SPARKS: Oh, my gosh! My brother, definitely. My whole entire family – my dad, my mom, my brother, my nana, my papa, my nana. I can talk to them about anything, and if I have a decision to make, or anything like that, I go to them for advice. And then, on the business side of things, because you can’t survive alone over there either, I have my manager, my tour manager and my publicist, who I would fall apart without. I would be a complete wreck without them. They’re absolutely amazing! I found a really, really great team, and I don’t know what I would do without them.
It’s one thing to win American Idol, but it’s another thing entirely to maintain success and continue to have the career you want to have. What would you say has been the key for you?
SPARKS: I definitely think it’s a number of things. It’s having the right people behind you. It’s having the right work ethic. It’s having the right mind-set. And it’s also a little bit of luck. For me, I just never put all my eggs in one basket, so to speak. I know that music and acting now are things that I want to do for the rest of my life. But, if suddenly that was to stop, I’d actually be okay. It’s not the be all, end all of my life. I know who I am, outside of this, and I think that’s a really big thing to have. Sometimes, this is all that somebody is and this is all their worth is, and I have worth outside of this, as well. I think that really helps, too.
So, you’ve gone on to do a movie with Nicolas Cage?
What was that experience like?
SPARKS: It’s crazy, I actually didn’t have any scenes where we interacted, but he plays the pilot in this film called Left Behind, and it’s about the rapture. It’s based on the book series, called Left Behind. It’s going to be really intense because it takes place on a plane. I play a mother who loses her child. Obviously, I don’t have kids, so it was definitely mentally challenging to get myself in that mind-set. It’s really cool. It’s different for people to see me in that way. I can’t wait until everybody sees it. I’m so excited!
Your dream of doing Broadway came true, when you got to be a part of In the Heights. Did the reality of being on Broadway live up to what you were hoping it would be, or was it crazier than you ever could have imagined?
SPARKS: It was both, actually. It was crazier than I could have imagined, but it was everything that I thought it would be and more. And I definitely think it was also the type of cast I came into. We were doing In the Heights, which is about a Dominican and Puerto Rican and Cuban community that lives in Washington Heights in New York. It was just amazing because they welcomed me with open arms. They could have been like, “Oh, look at this new girl coming in. We don’t need to help her.” They could have totally been that way, but they helped me, every step of the way. I actually miss it, every single day. I miss In the Heights. I miss those people. I miss those songs. I miss singing up there. I miss that, every single day. I look back on that experience with nothing but love and affection and admiration. I had so much fun. If it comes back, I’m gonna be there. And if they ever do a movie, I will fight to the death for the role of Nina. It was absolutely incredible.
Do you find yourself at a point where you feel yourself drawn more towards acting than music, or are you happy with finding a balance between the two.
SPARKS: I’m happy finding a balance between the two. I haven’t had that moment where I have to choose either/or, or I like one more than the other. I love doing both of them. If I woke up tomorrow and couldn’t do music anymore, I absolutely don’t know what I would do. So, it’s just been about trying to figure out a balance. What has been happening is that I’ll go record some songs, and I’m good with everything that’s happening, but then God just keeps opening doors for me to be on the acting side and do these movies. And I’m filming CSI this week, which is totally crazy. I’ve gotta walk through these doors that are opening, and it’s been really amazing. I’m just gonna keep going, and we’ll see how everything calls.
How did you end up doing an episode of CSI?
SPARKS: I auditioned for it. It came through my agent. They said, “We have an audition for you to do CSI, if you’re interested.” I was obsessed with CSI, and I still am. It’s one of my favorite shows, ever. To be on it was something I actually said, when I was younger, that I was gonna do. And now I get to check it off of my bucket list. I can’t wait! It’s gonna be fun. I can’t say very much because it will give everything away, but let’s just say that I’m a victim and a suspect. I can’t wait to get in there and get into costume and character with all of the blood.
Is there another show that you would also love to do, if you got the chance to do a guest spot?
SPARKS: I would love to do something on Modern Family or New Girl, or something like that. I love comedy. I would love to try my hand at comedy, so I would love to do one of those shows, if they have a guest spot. Or I would love to do something super scary like American Horror Story. That would be fun, too.
The Inevitable Defeat of Mister & Pete is now playing in theaters.